16 Borghese Gallery Masterpieces You Must See

Even if you have only a passing interest in art, Galleria Borghese is an essential addition to your Rome itinerary. But how can you make the most of your visit and which Borghese Gallery masterpieces should you not miss?

As a two-time visitor to this outstanding museum, this is where I can help you. Hit the highlights with my guide to one of Rome’s greatest art collections.

marble statue in a room with a painted ceiling in galleria borghese in rome italy

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BORGHESE GALLERY, ROME AT A GLANCE

Address: Piazzale del Museo Borghese 5, 00197 Rome. Check the location on Google Maps.

Opening hours & ticket prices: Tuesday – Friday, 9 am to 7 pm. In 2024, the full adult price is €13 + compulsory booking fee (online reservation is mandatory).

Recommended tours

Introducing the Borghese Gallery

The Borghese Gallery is famous for its outstanding collection of sculptures, especially those by Bernini and Canova, and paintings by artists including Caravaggio, Titian and Raphael. The glue binding its collection is the connection of the Classical world with the Renaissance.

Cardinal Scipione Borghese was a man on a mission. He built this garden villa in the 17th Century and set out to demonstrate that the Renaissance equalled the glories of Ancient Rome.

To prove his point, he curated a magnificent art collection. He was Bernini’s first important patron and the work that he commissioned from the sculptor is still here. At one time he owned no fewer than twelve Caravaggios.

roman bust of a man draped in an dark ochre coloured cloak
Galleria Borghese, Roman bust

Here are my top tips for your visit

One of the reasons that visiting the Borghese Gallery is such a joy is that the visitor numbers are capped at a maximum of 180 people for each two-hour time slot.

There’s none of the elbow-bumping you get at the Vatican Museum or Uffizi Galleries. The downside is that two hours is all you get.

You must arrive at the museum 30 minutes before your ticketed entry time to avoid being denied entry. When your ticket is scanned on arrival, you will be branded with a coloured sticker to allow staff to enforce this time restriction. 

Do all you need to do before your timed entry slot. Give yourself enough time to deposit items in the cloakroom, buy an audioguide if you need it, and use the toilet facilities. You don’t want these activities to eat into your precious 120 minutes.

Museum staff will encourage you to start your visit in the picture gallery (Pinocoteca) on the first floor. Set aside 30 minutes for this but spend most of your time budget on the more interesting ground floor. This is where you will find the sculptures and paintings for which the Borghese Gallery is famous.

Make every minute count by focusing on these Borghese Gallery masterpieces.

Sculptures by Bernini and Canova

1. Bust of Cardinal Scipione, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1632)

marble bust of a cardinal

If you have a sculptor at your beck and call, it would be almost rude not to have them create your likeness for all eternity. This is one of two busts of Cardinal Scipione Borghese in the museum.

But if you think that he was a saintly cardinal, think again.

Borghese had few scruples when it came to amassing his art collection. Whilst he commissioned, bought or was gifted most pieces, other artworks were acquired in more questionable ways.

Scipione used his power to liberate artworks from those who hadn’t paid taxes. He even hired thieves to steal Raphael’s Deposition from a convent altar.

2. Pauline Borghese as Venus, Antonio Canova (1805 – 1808)

marble sculpture of a semi-nude woman reclining which is one of the borghese gallery masterpieces

Talk about striking a pose.

Napoleon’s sister bared all for Canova, channelling Venus Victrix (the clue is the apple she is holding). That satisfied smirk on her face speaks volumes about her promiscuity and flirtatiousness.

This sculpture scandalized the good citizens of early 19th Century Europe who were not used to seeing their aristocracy going the full monty. When asked how she could have posed in the buff, she replied “the room wasn’t cold.”

The range of textures Canova produces from this block of marble is extraordinary, from the dent and creases in the mattress to the glow of Pauline’s smooth skin.

3. Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (c. 1618)

marble sculpture of 2 figures

Carved when he was just 15 years old (with a little help from his father), Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius is Bernini’s first major work for Cardinal Scipione.

Although it is an awkward, unstable group that lacks the dynamism of his more mature Baroque pieces, it reveals his skill for portraying human flesh.

4. Apollo and Daphne, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1622 – 1625)

classical marble statue of a male and female figure

For me, this is not only one of the highlights of the Borghese Gallery but also one of the greatest sculptures in Rome. I’d go as far as to say it’s one of Italy’s must-see sculptures.

Apollo and Daphne was inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  

Struck by naughty Cupid’s arrow of love, Apollo reaches Daphne after a long chase. However, the object of his desire has been turned off by the arrow of disgust.

As Daphne cries out to her father for help, her fingers sprout leaves, her toes become roots and she transforms into a laurel tree.

Just look at the thrilling intensity of this moment. Bernini’s sculptural skills are clear to see in the carving of Daphne with her flowing hair and fingers branching into leaves.

5. David, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1624 – 1624)

marble sculpture of david by bernini as he is pulling back the sling

Bernini’s giant slayer is coiled like a spring, ready for action.

His body is twisted, brows knitted, lips pursed, eyes focused on his target. It’s said that David’s face is a self-portrait.

Compare this to Michelangelo’s apprehensive, pretty-boy David, one of the most famous sculptures of the Renaissance.

statue of david by michelangelo

6. Rape of Persephone, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (c. 1621)

marble sculpture of 2 twisting figures in the borghese gallery in rome

The Rape of Persephone is one of the early masterpieces by Bernini made for Borghese. Even at the tender age of 24, the sculptor was a master of marble.

Pluto, king of the underworld, tries to abduct Persephone. But she is having none of it and struggles to flee from his embrace. Take a look at his hand digging into her thigh.

Cerebus, her three-headed hound of Hell, sits at Persephone’s leg, mouth open in an eternal bark.

marble sculpture of a three headed dog

Caravaggio Masterpieces in the Borghese Gallery

With its stash of six artworks by the bad boy of Baroque art, the Borghese Gallery has the largest collection of Caravaggio paintings in the world.

7. Self Portrait as Bacchus, Caravaggio (c. 1594)

painting by caravaggio of bacchus holding grapes

Also known as Young Sick Bacchus and the Boy Crowned with Ivy, this is an early self-portrait by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. It was bought by Cardinal Scipione from Giuseppe Cesari, Caravaggio’s early employer, in 1607.

But why is it also known as Young Sick Bacchus? Caravaggio was ill at the time he painted it and liver disease had caused yellow pigmentation of his skin and eyes.

8. Boy with a Basket of Fruit, Caravaggio (c. 1594)

painting by caravaggio of a boy holding a basket of fruit

The model for this superb still-life was Caravaggio’s friend, the 16-year-old Sicilian painter Mario Minniti. This early Caravaggio oozes sensuality.

A beautiful youth coquettishly tilts his head, his shirt falling from one shoulder, whilst clutching the basket of fruit to his chest. Caravaggio renders the fruit in delicious detail, from the velvety peaches to the bright glossy apples.

9. Madonna of the Palafrenieri, Caravaggio (1605)

painting of a wizened st anne and virgin mary in a red dress holding a naked jesus

Way to mark your card with the Vatican!

Caravaggio was commissioned to paint an altarpiece for St. Peter’s Basilica that depicted the Virgin Mary expelling evil in the form of a snake. He must have known that he would outrage the religious powers by using an instantly recognisable prostitute as the model for Mary. St Anne is an elderly peasant woman and Jesus is naked.

Deemed unsuitable for St Peter’s – it hung there for two days only –  Madonna of the Palafrenieri was snapped up by Scipione for a song.

10. St. Jerome, Caravaggio (1605)

painting of a bald old man with red cloak sitting at a desk with books and a skull

Cardinal Scipione commissioned this painting of the Roman priest who translated the Bible into Latin.

With the lifelike St Jerome sporting a brilliant red cloak, this striking image has been pared back to basics by Caravaggio’s skilled use of light. Look at the way his outstretched arm leads your eye to the skull, which symbolises mortality.

11. David with the Head of Goliath, Caravaggio (c. 1610)

painting by caravaggio of david holding the head of goliath

Also painted for Scipione, the head of Goliath is Caravaggio’s self-portrait.

David dangles the severed head of his defeated foe for all to see. A sword in his hand has the inscription H-AS OS, which is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase humilitas occidit superbiam (“humility kills pride”).

12. Young St. John the Baptist, Caravaggio (c. 1610)

painting of john the baptist draped with a loin cloth and red cloak

This is one of at least eight paintings of John the Baptist by Caravaggio. Draped against a crimson cloak, Young St. John the Baptist is the artist’s last known work.

It was gifted to Cardinal Scipione in exchange for a papal pardon for a murder that Caravaggio had committed. The painter hoped that this would allow him to return from exile in Sicily to Rome.

Other Paintings in the Borghese Gallery

13. Sacred and Profane Love, Titian (1514)

painting of 2 women with a cupid figure in the middle by titian

This early Titian masterpiece was painted for the wedding of Niccolò Aurelio, a secretary to the Venice Council of Ten, and Laura Bagarotto. Over the past 500 years, there have been many interpretations of this enigmatic painting and the jury is still out.

The consensus is that the richly-dressed woman on the left is ”profane love”. The naked woman is “sacred love.”

14. Venus Blindfolding Cupid, Titian (c. 1565)

painting of the godess venus blindfolding cupid by titian

This later painting by Titian shows Venus winding a ribbon around Cupid’s head, attended by two female figures, one holding a bow, the other a quiver with arrows.

15. Lady with a Unicorn, Raphael (c. 1505)

portrait of a woman with golden hair holding a unicorn

I’m a huge Raphael fangirl and have been lucky to visit Urbino, his hometown. I adore the composition, simplicity and grace of this, one of his most famous portraits.

Striking the pose of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the sitter cradles a unicorn, a symbol of chastity. Just look at her coiled golden hair and the exquisite jewel dangling from her neck.

Its composition, placing the subject in a loggia opening onto a landscape, also echoes Mona Lisa.

16. Danae, Antonio Corregio (c. 1530) 

painting of a naked women with angel and two children

We have the Emilian artist Correggio to thank for the last in my list of Borghese Gallery masterpieces. Forming part of his important commission for the Duke of Mantua, it is his only painting hanging in Rome.

It depicts the Greek mythological figure Danae, daughter of Acrisius, king of Argos. She is visited by Jupiter, who has been transformed into a shower of gold, which Cupid helps her collect using a bedsheet. 

Two putti, or amoretti, hold an arrow at the foot of her bed. They use a touchstone to test the endurance of love, which risks being corrupted by gold.

Visiting the Borghese Gallery: Practical Information

If you have your heart set on visiting Galleria Borghese, you need to plan ahead. This is not a place to wing it once you land in Rome.

Here’s what you need to know to make it happen.

Opening hours

The Borghese Gallery is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 9 am to 7 pm (last admission at 5.45 pm). It is closed on 25 December. You can check opening times here.

How to get to Borghese Gallery

It’s safe to say that the Borghese Gallery is not the easiest museum in Rome to reach using public transport.

I took the lovely 20-minute walk through the Borghese Gardens from Flaminio metro station (Line A) at Piazza del Popolo. Take the steps to the left of Santa Maria del Popolo to reach the gardens and follow the signs from here.

Try to build in time to take in one of my favourite views in Rome from the Pincio Terrace, which overlooks Piazza del Popolo.

statues and tall obelisk in the centre of a large square in rome
Piazza del Popolo

It’s also a 20-minute walk from Barberini station (Line B).

Local buses are available from both metro stations. The bus stops closest to Galleria Borghese are S.Paolo del Brasile and Pinciana/Museo Borghese.

Other transport options are local taxis and Uber.

How to buy tickets

This is the one museum in Rome where it is mandatory to buy your ticket in advance. As Galleria Borghese is popular and visitor numbers are capped, you should book your ticket as soon as possible.

The cheapest way of doing this is via the Galleria Borghese official website here. As of April 2024, a full-price ticket for Borghese Gallery costs €13 plus a compulsory reservation fee. Ticket prices may increase when temporary exhibitions are held.

Discounts are available for EU citizens between the ages of 18 to 26 years of age. Although entry is free for those under 18, a 2-euro reservation fee applies.

Access to the museum is free on the first Sunday of the month, subject to booking fees. Book well in advance.

Annual passes are also available for longer-term visitors to Rome.

The Borghese Gallery is included in the Roma Pass (72 hours and 48 hours). Booking is mandatory and can be made online here.

What should I do if tickets are not available for my dates?

All is not lost if tickets are not available through the museum’s website.

Although you will pay a premium, you can try to buy a ticket through a third-party reseller. The advantage of purchasing your Borghese gallery tickets this way is that you benefit from escorted entrance through security and you can usually cancel for free up to 24 hours in advance if your plans change.

>>> CLICK HERE TO BUY YOUR SKIP-THE-LINE TICKET

Borghese Gallery Tours

You have two options for exploring the Borghese Gallery’s collection.

Self-guided tours

All of the artworks in the collection are clearly labelled and there are QR codes that you can scan for more information or an audio clip. As free guides go, the information is decent but is only available for selected works.

A better option is the museum’s audioguide, which you can rent at the desk next to the ticket office. When I visited, a photo ID was required.

Guided tours

To get the very best out of your visit, I recommend joining a guided tour.

The museum runs tours in English and Italian which cost €8 in addition to the ticket price and booking fee. You can book your guided tour at the same time as purchasing your ticket.

Go to the official website to find out more,

Alternatively, you can book a guided tour of the Borghese Gallery with a third-party provider. This is an excellent option if you want to keep your plans flexible – you can usually cancel these tours for free up to 24 hours in advance – or the times of the museum-led tours don’t fit with your schedule.

Here are a few good options:

Skip-the-Line Borghese Gallery Tour

This is an excellent option if you are looking for an affordable small-group gallery tour. It includes admission tickets and has been highly rated by other travellers.

>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK PRICE

Borghese Gallery Private Guided Tour with Hotel Pick-up

If you are looking for a guided tour that includes transport from your hotel or apartment in Rome, take a look at this 2.5-hour experience. It is pricey if you are travelling alone but is a good option for a small group of people.

>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK PRICE

ceiling painting of a scene with soldiers with shields and angels
Borghese Gallery, Salon D’Ingresso

More tips and information you might find useful

  • Thanks to the limitation on visitor numbers, the Borghese Gallery is never rammed. That said, the best time to visit is Tuesday to Friday, preferably when the museum opens or mid to late afternoon.
  • You can take personal photos without flash in the Borghese Gallery. However, during temporary exhibitions, photography may be prohibited at the museum. Tripods, monopods and selfie sticks are not allowed. 
  • There is an uninspiring small cafe that serves drinks and light refreshments onsite.
  • Only small bags are allowed into the gallery’s rooms. Larger items can be checked for free in the cloakroom. Just leave enough time to do this before your visit (those two hours are precious!).
  • Food and drink, including bottles of water, are not allowed inside the gallery.

More Art in Italy

I hope my guide helps you to plan your visit to the Borghese Gallery. This beautifully curated gallery is well worth a place on your Rome bucket list and its modest size and lack of crowds only add to its appeal.

If this has been useful, you may enjoy some of my other guides to art in Italy:

Happy travels!